March 12, 2010

By Marty Gitlin
Special to NCAA.com

CANTON, Ohio - Poolside humidity at the C.T. Branin Natatorium was not the only thing making Drury University men's and women's swimming coach Brian Reynolds sweat on Friday.

The teams from Springfield, Mo. were feeling the squeeze midway through the third session of the NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships. Wayne State (Detroit) was closing in on their lead in the women's competition and University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio) was doing the same on the men's side.

And when the swimmers were done splashing, Reynolds was still sweating it out. The Drury men finished Friday with 401 points, followed by Incarnate Word (314) and Wayne State (250). Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.) was fourth at 249 while Ouachita Baptist (Arkadelphia, Ark.) was next with 227.

Meanwhile, the Panther women had scored 473 points, just 58 more than Wayne State. West Chester (Pennslvania) University of California-San Diego and Clarion (Pennsylvania) lagged far behind.

Both the Drury men and women would have felt even more pressure heading into Saturday's critical session had their 800-yard freestyle relay teams not ended the night with first-place finishes.

Perhaps the most important victory for the Panther men, however, was achieved by sophomore Jun Han Kim in the 200 butterfly with a clocking of 1 minute, 45.16 seconds. That added 25 points to the gap between Drury and Incarnate Word in the team standings, which had shrunk to 54.

"That was certainly a big swim for J. Kim," Reynolds said. "That was not an event he swam before at the national championships. It was kind of a gamble for us. I never thought he would go 1:45, but it was sure fantastic to see."

Until then, Wayne State coach Sean Peters was seeing most of the fantastic things from his female swimmers. Senior Ashley St. Andrew opened the evening by winning the 500 freestyle at 4:53.51, and then junior teammate Sara Franklin followed with a first-place performance in the 100 backstroke at 54.56.

Warrior junior Courtney Roberts completed the blitz by snagging the 100 breaststroke crown at 1:01.89. The time was a mere one-hundredth of a second off the NCAA Division II record set in 2003 by Rosanna Delurgio.

Roberts understood the dire circumstances facing her team, which needed her victory to remain within shouting distance of Drury. But even though she did not think much about that, she admitted that such situations never prevent her from performing her best.

"There's a lot of pressure as the defending champion (of the 100 breaststroke), but I like pressure," Roberts said. "It's nice to win for the team and for the team to do well, but I never let outside distractions affect me. I knew (teammate Ana Gonzalez Pena) and I could finish 1-2 in the event and we did."

Roberts swam with no elaborate strategy. It was just a matter of moving as quickly as possible.

"I just took it out as fast as I could and brought it home," she said. "My high school coach once told me to just sprint and that's what I do. I try to leave it all in the pool."

That's what Incarnate Word freshman Conrado Chede did as well. He knew his team was desperate for points to keep pace with Drury and he came through with a 4:29.30 clocking to win the 500 freestyle. Teammates Alex Yatsko and Mark Rubin also scored for Incarnate Word in the event.

That victory gave him revenge over Drury freshman Chris Jacobsen, who had edged him out for first place in the 1,000 freestyle on Wednesday.

"Getting three of us into the finals was good because it allowed us all to score points for our team," Chede explained. "We try as a team to score as many points as we can.

"I knew that (Jacobsen) likes to hold on to the lead in the first 300 (yards), so I tried to keep pace with him. If he sprinted out, I just kept pushing. I knew that I could go pretty fast down the stretch."

As for beating the swimmer who beat him on Wednesday?

"That was awesome," Chede replied with a knowing smile.

Speaking of awesome, so was UC-San Diego sophomore Alexandra Henley again. She snagged her second individual first-place finish of the meet by winning the women's 200 butterfly with a clocking of 2:00.30.

The Tritons, however, are not fighting for a team title. Both the men's and women's championships will be decided on Saturday. And you can bet that Reynolds will be sweating even more then.